Lights up on Washington Heights!
For musical fans across the country, “In the Heights,” a cinematic event where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big makes its debut on HBO GO on September 16.
Set in the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights, “In the Heights” fuses Lin-Manuel Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director Jon M. Chu’s lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience.
Chu directed the film from a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes, based on the multiple-award-winning musical stage play, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, and concept by Miranda. Miranda, Hudes, Scott Sanders, Anthony Bregman, and Mara Jacobs produced the film, with David Nicksay and Kevin McCormick serving as executive producers.
The Heart of a Community
The scent of hot coffee hangs in the air just outside of the 181st Street subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies this vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is the likable, magnetic shop owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who saves every penny from his daily grind as he imagines, hopes, and sings about a better life.
Ultimately, “In the Heights” is a musical portrait of a community full of lively numbers as diverse as its cast. The story weaves together an ensemble of characters during a summer of seismic change in their lives, with much of the action taking place at one intersection central to the neighborhood. The songs and dances cover a variety of styles—from hip-hop to Latin to pop and musical theater—and provides ample opportunity to explore the varied influences of the distinct Latin cultures that merge and continue to populate and represent the community of Washington Heights.
From Stage to Screen
Lin-Manuel Miranda completed his first draft of the stage musical “In the Heights” during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University, where it was performed as part of the school’s Second Stage. There, the 80-minute one-act played for a mere three days, but the potential for a grander production was evident from the start. Even now, after a wildly successful Broadway run and film adaptation, Miranda is amazed that it all started when he was still that young. Having recently seen a stage production of the work, he muses, “I went to see something a child wrote—a child version of me.”
It wasn’t until later when Miranda and his team were building towards an off-Broadway run, that playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes joined the project. Their collaboration would later earn them both Tony Awards, numerous world tours, and legions of fans.
After a stint off-Broadway, “In the Heights” opened in the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway on March 9, 2008. It ran for nearly 1,200 performances, racked up 13 Tony nominations, and won four—Best Musical, Original Score, Choreography, and Orchestrations. The accolades did not end there, as the Original Cast Recording won the production a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album, and the Pulitzer Prize committee named the show a finalist for its accolade for drama.
For Miranda and Hudes, the most exciting element in the journey from stage to screen was bringing on Jon M. Chu as director. Chu likewise felt the adaptation process was one of plumbing greater depths: “People kept asking me, ‘How will you make it cinematic? How will you blow it up? What will you do to make it big?’ In fact, we went inside. We went internal to blow it up because internally, there’s no small story. In your mind, your dreams and your hopes are bigger than any journey to the moon, any adventure to some deserted island. To show what people in Washington Heights dream about and imagine themselves as is as exciting as anything else. I credit Quiara and Lin for allowing us to find the cinematic voice of the piece. Not a lot of people would understand that translation. I’m sure it was scary at times, breaking it and re-breaking it, trying to find the right fit. But, without such an amazing partnership, we wouldn’t have been able to present it in film.”
Hudes assures any anxious fans of the show that no matter how it may have evolved for the screen, its essence remains the same: “‘In the Heights’ is a piece about joy. That has never changed.”
Stream or download “In the Heights” on HBO GO.
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